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‘Where is the need for new Ragas’ – Gangubai Hangal

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‘Where is the need for new Ragas’ – Gangubai Hangal

Asks Gangubai Hangal in an outspoken conversation with MOHAN NADKARNI.
Illustrated Weekly of India, October 25, 1987

Music critic Mohan Nadkarni has been a great admirer of Gangubai’s art. The ensuing interview has been culled from several informal conversations over the years.

The author in conversation with Gangubai Hangal at a concert in Pune.

The author in conversation with Gangubai Hangal at a concert in Pune.

When did you make your debut as a concert singer?

Believe it or not, it was at the Belgaum session of the Indian National Congress in 1924, held under the presidentship of Mahatma Gandhi. I was only 11 then, and my part in it was to render the invocation song.

But this was not a concert appearance in the conventional sense, was it? What I had in mind was your maiden performances on the concert platform.

That was in 1933, I was featured by the Suburban Music Circle at Santa Cruz in Bombay, for Rs. 75. This concert brought me to the notice of the music bosses of HMV and they began to cut my discs in instalments.

True enough, my memories of your music go back to the early thirties. I still fondly remember your many 78 rpm records. One thing that intrigued me was that your name, as it appeared on the labels of these records, differed.

(Laughs heartily), My family name was Gandhari Hangal but the recording company rechristened me Gangubai Hublikar, possibly because my native place, Hangal, was a small town compared to Hubli which has been a leading centre of trade and commerce. I was told by the bosses that the change would bring me wider fame!

That was not all. One of the company bosses had second thoughts, as a result of which my original name (Gandhari) came to be printed on some of the records instead of Gangubai, as it was considered too common a name. This jumbling of names continued for some time, till I finally came to be known by my present name.

You have been abroad on concert tours a number of times. Which western countries did you visit and what was your reaction to audience response there?

My first visit abroad was in 1979. It was to France. I was enlisted to give two recitals in 24 hours at a soiree sponsored by French organizers in Paris. The second visit to France was in connection with the Festival of India about two years ago. I have also toured America and West Germany and Canada.

I noticed a growing interest in vocal music among both the American and the Canadian listeners. A lot of people there seem to show an intelligent appreciation of our classical music. The credit for this should go to some of our top musicians.

As a veteran traditional vocalist, what do you have to say about the state of classical music in India today?

Classical music today is very different from what it was three decades ago. It is evolving but perhaps not as beautifully as it should. Today, the number of classical artistes has increased tremendously and each artiste prefers to highlight some artistic aspect of his or her presentation to regale the audience.

Don’t you think our present-day classical music has become mass-based and therefore more gimmicky?

It is a little dicey to answer this question categorically. You have seen how my concerts draw large audiences though I am solely a classical vocalist. From this I can say that it is as popular as other forms.

Of course there is a growing tendency among some artistes to present their self-composed ragas. Worse, some even start off a lecture-cum-demonstration right in midst of their performance. All these seem designed to please the gallery. There is nothing wrong with innovating or creating new ragas if the artiste is imaginative and well-groomed in raga vidya. But then where is the need for new ragas when we can’t master even half the old and familiar ones?

Do you object to lecture-cum-demonstrations?

Not at all. They have their own educative value. What I am saying is in today’s context. Because I find that a lecture-cum-demonstration in the middle of a performance only used the latter as a clever medium of image-building. And that is not quite in good taste.

Is the old method of teaching, i.e. the guru-shishya parampara, relevant today?

The traditional method has its own usefulness if the quality of teaching also conforms to old standards. Unfortunately, that is not the case. In today’s changed conditions, it is equally necessary to adapt a parampara method to suit contemporary requirements.

May I now ask you a personal question? It is widely believed that till recently you used to discourage your daughter Krishna from giving solo recitals. Is this true?

This is a blatant lie, malicious gossip. It is up to the organisers of concerts and sammelans to decide whether they want to invite her or not. She is already popular as a soloist in our part of the country and her performances have received encomiums.

Much is being said and written about a possible unification of the Hindustani and Carnatic paramparas. Remember the state-sponsored ‘National Integration Through Music’, featuring Bhimsen Joshi and Balamurali Krishna early last year?

(Laughs) How could there be a unification of the two paramparas? I just can’t conceive such a blend. The two systems have enjoyed a peaceful co-existence for centuries without shedding their basic character and identity. Shouldn’t we leave them along to grow and prosper on their own?



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